Is Google trustworthy?

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Google logo (Image credit: Android Central)

Google has changed dramatically in the past 10 years. That's partly because technology itself has changed, partly because of management changes within the company, and partly because being more aggressive is how you make more money when you're an advertisement company. The days of "Don't Be Evil" seem to be long gone.

I say it started 10 years ago because that's when we heard about the most intrusive thing Google had ever done up to that point — collect data from user Wi-Fi networks using its Street View cars back in 2010. The issue was a bit overblown because they always are, but Google did end up collecting unencrypted data sent using open Wi-Fi networks while it was collecting the data it needed to make a map without using GPS. Then it tried to shrug it off, and that felt pretty evil to a lot of people.

Doing something stupid might not be evil. Trying to say it's OK and partially our fault makes it so.

Google did finally own up to the issue and admit that even though it was switching Wi-Fi channels five times per second, with Wi-Fi being as fast as it is (even back then) more data that necessary got collected. Google is the tech expert and it should have known better; if it had there would be no need for an apology and court hearings afterward.

There have been plenty of other times where Google skirted the edge of evil. Sometimes with good reason and poor explanation, others because it was profitable. Cooperating with the Chinese government to build a censored version of Google services — evil. Helping the U.S. government build and test robotic killing machines — evil. And of course, countless things we never found out about, too.

Project Loon

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

There are some times where Google is absolutely not evil, and those don't get the exposure they deserve. Google spends millions on cancer research. Google gives millions in grants to universities so all kinds of fields can be further studied. Google even tried to fly low-orbit balloons to supply internet to places like sub-Saharan Africa or places affected by natural disasters. Sure, these things aren't entirely altruistic and if Google found a cure for cancer, it would make a tidy profit.

Google does a lot of good things that also make a lot of money for the company.

But I think what most people care about when it comes to trusting Google is with our own personal and private data. And that's one of the places where you can trust Google to not be evil. Not because it cares about you — Google is not your friend — but because it helps make more money and get more users for its services.

Every tech company collects data about you when you use its products. Companies that claim otherwise are not telling the truth, and a look at the terms of service will show that all of them — including Apple — collect as much as they can and everything it thinks is useful. Where Google and Facebook differ from Microsoft and Apple is that both want to sell ad space based on your personal preferences.

That means Google collects a lot of data. Everything you do with a Google product, unless explicitly marked as hands-off like data from children under 13, data about your sexual orientation or your health, and a handful of other bits and pieces, goes back to the mothership.

Some of our data is completely hands-off.

So far Google hasn't done anything wrong with all of this information. Google knows what brand of beard trimmer I use, what size tires are on my car, how much my monthly utility bills are and more because I use Chrome to pay for it all. And Google shows me ads about men's facial grooming products, custom wheels and tires, and companies who want to install solar panels so I can save money on my electric bill.

More: Does Google sell my personal information?

Google does not know who that 2-year-old kid in about a gazillion of my photos is (I ♥️ my granddaughter like every other grandpa does) or much about my health conditions. It probably knows that I shop online for spare wheelchair parts but has never done anything with that information. It promises that it never will, and so far so good.

In the abstract and bigger picture, Google is an evil global mega-corporation just like any other evil global mega-corporation. Knowing that it worked for and with DARPA or tried to cater to the Chinese government comes as no surprise. But on a personal level where our day to day interactions with the company come into play, Google is still honoring its end of the bargain we made when we signed up.

It's possible for a company to be trustworthy in some ways and evil in others. This is one of those times.

So back to the question — is Google trustworthy? For most of us and the way we interact with the company, yes. It collects an uncomfortable amount of data about us but so far has never done anything bad with it. It told us up front how it was going to collect it all and what it uses it for, and that's exactly what it does.

On a more macro-level, Google is evil. But no more evil that Amazon or Microsoft or Apple. The real issue is that it gets away with being evil because we love its products; also just like Amazon or Microsoft or Apple. Every tech company needs to be held to the fire like Facebook has been and forced to face any wrongdoings.

I don't mean by government officials who have no idea how anything works, but by tech-savvy users like you and me. Why do we accept blunders and try to whitewash google's misdeeds? That's the real question, and I can't answer that one.

Jerry Hildenbrand
Senior Editor — Google Ecosystem

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.

  • Is Google trustworthy? No.
    Is it true that now they want keystroke access for Google Drive? Better not be.
    Am I on the fence moving to 'that other' operating system? Yes. And I can't believe I'm even thinking about doing that.
  • Apple is any different?
  • They are a silo -- if you use Apple's device, Microsoft's mail service, Audi/BMW/whatever's maps and the Google's search it makes it much harder to cross-reference your data. I mean, you could defeat all of this by installing the Facebook app, but that would be something *you* decide :-P
  • Use Secure Folder!
  • Absolutely not. They are a large business and their main purpose is to make money and please their shareholders. They care about that above all else and as we see in the media will push the envelope as far as breaking the law to do it. They even collect medical information on everyone through a partnership with Ascension and most people have no idea they are doing that and no easy way to opt out.
  • Jerry, I love your articles...But come on...Do you really believe, "Google does not know who that 2-year-old kid in about a gazillion of my photos is (I ♥️ my granddaughter like every other grandpa does) or much about my health conditions...?" They may claim they are not storing those particular facts, but because they are collection all your data they can ascertain that information with a couple of keystrokes. That said, it doesn't mean they are necessarily evil, or more evil than any other tech company, because you are spot on in that all tech companies collect data...
  • I used to be a huge Google shill. No longer. When they started attacking me personally in everything from Google+ to YouTube, I pretty much kicked them to the curb. A few more improvements in the Apple ecosystem, and I'm done with Google. Heck, I wish Huawei had meant the claim they weren't going back to Google even if they could.
  • Huawei wouldn't be my first choice after google
  • If they were untrustworthy what would we be able to do anyway? Everyone relies heavily on Google whether we want to or not....
  • > If they were untrustworthy what would we be able to do anyway? Use alternatives, which might be no less untrustworthy, but would not have all the information in one place? Put your money where your mouth is and use paid services and demand that whoever you pay your money sticks to the user agreement? Let's face it -- if Google was to charge a fee for Gmail, Google Maps, Google Voice, etc, people would have found alternative solutions in no time...
  • Alternatives don't work nearly as well.
  • Exactly this.... Alternatives are scarce.
  • Could you elaborate? Which specific Google product do you not see an alternative for?
  • Not in the slightest.
  • I don't trust Google with my personal information, my pictures, my personal documents, or anything. I don't trust them to not listen to my Google Home. So, back to the main question, are they trustworthy? No. No they're not.
  • Why the heck would you have a Google Home? Or any other home "snooping" device?
  • No. Nope. Not at all. Ever.
  • Nope. I feel like since the new guy took over, its been on steady decline. It was under his shift I believe they ended the 'Do no Evil' slogan.
  • Bad timing for this article. They are not trustworthy.
    Yeah mistakes will happen but it's how they reacted. Waiting 3 months to inform people as a "btw" moment is not trustworthy. Huawei has been massively vilified in the states right now with no proof. (The crap the US government shared out has been proven to be false already). But I'm really hoping they up their software game and rival Google services so that we have choice and that Google has competition and cleans up its act
  • Oh no, there is proof. A simple Google search will get you any info you want. Whether you choose to believe it or not is a different story.
  • The tide has turned. People who comment here don't trust Google. I wonder what people on an Apple site would be saying about Apple?
  • Seems like the author has a subjective view of 'evil'.
  • Are any big companies trustworthy?
    No not in my limited experience or from the news & media,.... Of course the news & media cannot betrusted either. Sad!